Research supports the idea that K-8 and K-9 schools are do a better job of supporting the growth of students’ skills and confidence. A study out of the University of Pennsylvania found that a greater number of transitions for elementary and middle school students resulted in poorer academic performance. And in a recent study conducted by New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, researchers found that student perceptions of their reading and writing skills was lower at traditional middle schools than at K-8 schools.
What are the key factors that make a K-8 or K-9 school such a good option for kids? Here are a few issues to consider.
Consistent mission and values
K-8 schools are able to teach and reinforce a consistent set of core values over time so that children can internalize them more effectively. Here at Fay, for example, our students in Kindergarten through grade nine are broken into three divisions: Primary School (K-grade 2), Lower School (grades 3-6,) and Upper School (grades 7-9.) This structure allows students to learn and grow in an age-appropriate setting within a larger community where the mission, culture, and values remain consistent. In our school, Earnest Effort is one of our core values, so beginning in grade three, students receive effort grades in each subject every two weeks, a system that follows them through ninth grade. Dedicated Service is another of our core values - and every grade at Fay, Kindergarten through grade nine, incorporates community service into their year, whether it is a day spent sorting donations at Cradles to Crayons for second graders or a week spent volunteering in soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City in eighth. These consistent values will guide students throughout their time at Fay.
Meaningful milestones within a known community
Within a K-8 or K-9 community, students are able to experience mini-transitions that celebrate their achievements, build leadership skills and confidence, and encourage a growing sense of independence. At Fay, for example, each division has a capstone year where students take on new leadership roles and responsibilities as they prepare to move on. In second grade, students make announcements at lunch and are expected to be the behavioral models for Primary School. In sixth grade, students monitor the walk to recess and volunteer as Primary School lunch helpers, and in Upper School, ninth graders can captain athletic teams and be color officers. As students graduate to the next division, they experience the excitement of new challenges and opportunities, but within a known community. “It feels like a new school, but with the safety and familiarity of the people you know,” explains Julie Porazzo, the director of Fay’s educational program.
A holistic understanding of students as they grow
Perhaps the greatest benefit of a K-9 education is the institutional knowledge that the community brings to support the growth and development of each student. When a student has a tenure of five to ten years at the same school, his or her strengths, weaknesses, and individual learning style are well understood. Here at Fay, in fifth and sixth grade, students are part of the same “homevisory” group for two years, and in Upper School each student has an advisory group for all three years that provides a home base and advisor as point person. At Fay, teachers are able to share experiences about students with one another to help tailor the educational experience to each student’s needs. “When new students join us in Upper School, we often wish that we had gotten them sooner,” says Julie. “We would be able to refer back to the work they did in sixth grade or fifth grade and understand them better. The institutional knowledge that we have for many of our students is a huge benefit, and it enables us to prepare them well for the challenges and independence of secondary school.”
The social-emotional benefits of sending your child to a school where he or she is known and valued within the community is vitally important in the tumultuous middle school years. Julie compares the Fay community to an old-world neighborhood where everybody knows each other and you can go and knock on any door. The relationships that students build with faculty, staff, and peers in a K-9 community provide a web of support and an opportunity for growth that are truly unique in an elementary and middle school environment.